Listening to every song The Libertines have recorded (so far) makes you realise that they have been, since forming in 1997, three different bands. 1/ In the very early years, the largely acoustic dreamers who hadn’t heard The Strokes yet. 2/ From 2000 (ish) to 2004 (when they split up), the destructive garage rockers who took over the UK with their albums ‘Up The Bracket’ and ‘The Libertines’, their own mythology and their dangerous dedication to living strange. And 3/ Since reforming on 2010, a band who have achieved a regular-festival-headliners stability that must surely have seemed impossible for much of their existence. What glues all these things together into a discography that makes any kind of sense is, of course, the relationship between the band’s singers, songwriters and guitarists Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. Within it you find a very human tale of love and hate and estrangement and reconciliation, that gives The Libertines their soul. That soul is bruised and battered and probably still working its way through some severe PTSD, but it’s very much in tact. And they are a special band because of what that tells us about the power of forgiveness.
A brief note on selecting the tracks for this list: sometimes when sifting through the work of Pete and Carl it’s not entirely clear which songs belong to who, and tough decisions have to be made. So tunes like ‘Albion’, ‘Babyshambles’ and ‘Sticks And Stones’ that were demo’d as Libertines songs, then given a full and proper release with Babyshambles, have been discarded. But if you spot any glaring omissions that should 100% without a shadow of a doubt be on here, feel free to politely let me know.
71/ Over It Again (2015)
One of two that John (Hassall, bassist) sang, which was a bonus track on the Japanese edition of ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’. It’s probably not unfair to suggest that Libertines songs not sung by Pete, Carl or both do lack a certain… je ne sais quoi.
70/ Sister Sister (2001)
The other one that John (Hassall, bassist) sang, this time from the ‘Legs XI’ demos. Same problem as ‘Over It Again’, to be quite honest. But, in an act of generosity that really does warm the cockles, everyone was nice enough to let John pop it on the debut album by his post-Libs band Yeti, which is no less than the perky little ditty deserves.
69/ Pay The Lady (2000)
Hold on – is this a funk track?! Very early Libs, that doesn’t sound like the Libs at all. Disorientating, and not in the way that Pete likes.
68/ Lazy Sunday (2003)
Small Faces cover recorded for the soundtrack of a film called Blackball, about bowls. Mad! But highly enjoyable to hear both Pete and Carl put on their hammiest east London accents.
67/ All At Sea (2004)
First released on a free CD that came with The Observer, and again on 2005’s ‘What Became Of The Likely Lads’, ‘All At Sea’ is a proper proto-Libs tune full of coughs that shouldn’t be there, textbook Peter self-pity, a nod to a difficult relationship in his life (“I’m all at sea, dad”) and a quiet bit that ended up being used on ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.
66/ Sally Brown (2003)
A sea shanty and ‘Time For Heroes’ b-side made for drinking, dancing, escaping and forgetting:
65/ Don’t Be Shy (2004)
An unusually heavy and jagged thing, with an strange lack of anything especially prophetic to say. Still, you can’t really argue with: “Don’t be shy, for if you are shy for tomorrow you’ll be shy for one thousand days.” Be brave, friends. You are stronger and more excellent than you realise.
64/ Mr Finnegan (2003)
An instrumental! And a delightful little acoustic thing it is too, going hard on the band’s love of Django Reinhardt, that conjures images of stripy hats and piers and summertime and fairground rides and ice cream and sand and sea and lunchtime naps and mild sunburn and dehydration and sunny pints and then more sunny pints and then oblivion.
63/ Through The Looking Glass (2003)
Two tender minutes which began life on The Libs’ ‘The French Sessions’ demos, and ended it on Pete’s solo single ‘Last Of The English Roses’ in 2009. A great fact from Libertines bible, upthealbion.com: the lyrics “in the morning there’s a buzz of flies” from early versions of ‘Through The Looking Glass’ are written on the first page of the ‘Up The Bracket’ album booklet.
62/ Love On The Dole (2015)
Dead early song that romanticises themes from Walter Greenwood’s novel of the same name (about poverty in northern England in the 1930s), that became a ‘Legs 11’ demo in 2001 before being beefed up and getting an ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ bonus track release. There is an irresistible jaunt to the ‘Legs 11’ version, don’t you think:
61/ General Smuts (2003)
‘We Can Work It Out’, by The Beatles: “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting.” ‘General Smuts’, by The Libertines: “Well life is short, we spend all our time just fucking and fighting my friend.” It’s unclear if this is deliberate, but it’s a nice illustration of one thing The Libertines are all about – taking the best bits from British musical history, and making it sound diiiiiiiirty. This is, probably, Carl at his smuttiest.
60/ Half-Cocked Boy (2003)
A tune recorded at the same time as second album classics ‘Narcissist’ and ‘Ha Ha Wall’ – at ‘The French Sessions’ – that then became, pretty much, the Babyshambles song ‘French Dog Blues’ six years later.
59/ Cyclops (2004)
Written by Pete and his pal Wolfman (who he wrote the majestic ‘For Lovers’ with), ‘Cyclops’ is significantly more chaotic than most Libertines songs, which is really saying something. It’s a ska tune, really, with some sort-of rapping from Pete and a couple of Carl-sung moments that sound like they belong in a different song. Enjoyable, but all over the place.
58/ Bucket Shop (2015)
Very early tune that first popped up on the 2001 ‘Legs 11’ bootleg, then got a proper release as an ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ bonus track. This extreeeemely early live performance of it is hilarious, because Carl looks like he’s in the ‘Please Please Me’ incarnation of The Beatles:
57/ Skint And Minted (2004)
Super early Libs tune recorded in 2002, pre the ‘Up The Bracket’ sessions, that wound up as a ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ b-side. Uses the same vocal distortion on Pete as the Strokes sometimes do on Julian Casablancas (and fits right in with the Libs being referred to as The British Strokes in their early days), features the top top lyric “well you’re an evil swine but I like your style, the wiggle in your walk and the silver in your smile“, and was a clear influence on ‘What A Waster’.
56/ Glasgow Coma Scale Blues (2015)
Pete and Carl singing at each other about their relationship – it never gets old. Pete: “You think it’s easy? Not with a best friend who deceives me, no”. Carl: “Oh it ain’t so hard to bear, when he got Kathmandu hair, cunt”. Together: “What happened to the joy in the hearts of the boys, at the start of the part of the scene? / They were part of the seams, a dream shared and pulled apart / One dream broken by two Libertines”. And it’s sort of post-punky, so a new twist on a tried and tested Libs songwriting technique.
55/ Campaign Of Hate (2004)
Slightly weird interlude on ‘The Libertines’ where Pete takes a break from dissecting his relationships with Carl and heroin to briefly reflect on the state of British schools. “Rich kids dressing like they’re poor – oh my god!”
54/ Radio America (2002)
The only chance you get to catch your breath while listening to ‘Up The Bracket’. Supposedly, Pete was the only Libertines member who liked the gentle acoustic drift of ‘Radio America’ (and he had to strike a deal with Carl to have it included on the debut album), and if his subsequent solo material is anything to go by he probably still does.
53/ Fury Of Chonburi (2015)
An ode to the place in Thailand (Chonburi), where Pete and Carl would go to burn a bit of energy while they were recording ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’. They also mention Sukhumvit, which is a district in Bangkok, and affectionately refer to each other as Pig Man in the lyrics. Essentially, it seems to be a song about Pete and Carl realising they still loved each other, and getting hammered to celebrate. Or, as Pete told Q: “It’s about trying to channel that f–king darkness that we have, amid the optimism and bonhomie and love we’ve got in the band at the moment.”
52/ Bangkok (2003)
There are some fairly horrible lyrics in ‘Bangkok’ (“sometimes you come in deep inside/ sometimes it doesn’t touch the sides, like a sausage up an alley way”), but it is nonetheless a pleasingly raucous account of Pete’s experiences with the Thai capital. The good thing about Bangkok, for Pete Doherty, is it’s where you fly to from England when you’re on your way to an idyllic drug rehabilitation centre on an island. The other good thing about Bangkok, for Pete Doherty, it’s chokka with really strong, really cheap, heroin. Such ironies are what life’s all about.
51/ The Milkman’s Horse (2015)
Pete wrote the first version, then gave it to Carl to write a better version (he ditched the chorus that ripped off The Supremes, and came up with a superior alternative), and that ladies and gentleman is what a functioning relationship between señors Doherty and Barat is all about. “Get out of my dreams you scum/ they weren’t meant for anyone but me.” Very good!
50/ Hooligans On E (2003)
A discarded ‘The Libertines’ track, inspired by a story that Pete Welsh (member of the band Kill City, author of the book Kids In The Riot: High and Low with The Libertines) told Pete about supporters of Swansea City football getting into ecstasy after booze was banned at their stadium. The moment of genius is Doherty singing “you’re going home in a London ambulance/ you’re going home in a cosmic ambience” in a melody that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time on the terraces.
49/ Iceman (2015)
Pete’s favourite track on ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’, which was recorded on a beach in Thailand. It’s dark and ominous and laced with doom. Let Carl describe its themes to you, as told to French magazine Rock & Folk: “It’s about a young boy and a young girl who found love in the city. I’ll give you a tip: I worked at the Old Vic when The Iceman Cometh was played. The song starts there. The Iceman is a man called Hickey, in 1910s New York, in a bar full of hookers. The Iceman is the one who sends you off to sleep. You can be a normal person working 9 to 5 or spending “your days in a haze with the Iceman”.”
48/ The Ha Ha Wall (2004)
Where it all began. Says Pete, in Pete Welsh’s book Kids In The Riot: “This dates back to the very first night Carl and I actually sat down as friends with guitars in about 1998 in Mortlake, above a furniture shop. He was really proud of his Union Jack towel and this old guitar he had, and the first song we wrote together became ‘The Ha Ha Wall’.”
47/ Barbarians (2015)
A moody, tribal thing that was first intro’d to the world in 2008/9/10 when it was sort-of recorded, and then played live four times, by Babyshambles, Back then it was called ‘Natives At The Gates Of The Rome’, but it never made it onto a Babyshambles album (cos Pete forgot?) and was gladly gobbled up by The Libertines for ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’. “All I want is to scream out loud, and have it up with a mental crowd.” Amen baby. Check out the absolute mayhem that is the original:
46/ Breck Road Lover (2001)
“She’s no scrubber, she’s my Breck Road lover / And we wash in dirty waters, and walk the streets where she gets her name” – amazing. You can tell that this is a super early Libs track because Pete barely sounds like Pete, but that only adds to its lost treasure status.
45/ Dead For Love (2015)
The final track on ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ and, quite possibly, the most explicit tribute to Pete’s friend Alan Wass (who died in 2013) on an album dedicated to him. It’s certainly an intensely sad, piano-led song (“there’s a dead man on the floor, he’s not going anywhere”) but it tries to find solace in the aftermath (“and everything he ever did, he only ever did for love”). Interesting opening lyric, too: “your only rule: stay alive / just keep breathing, you’ll be fine”. Look after yourself, Peter.
44/ Dilly Boys (2004)
It makes a lot of sense for The Libertines to write a warmhearted song about the rent boys who used to hang around the Piccadilly area of London. Because firstly, there’s nothing those guys love more than to unpick, redefine and romanticise London’s seedy underbelly. And because secondly, as explained in Jeremy Reed’s book The Dilly: A Secret History of Piccadilly Rent Boys, these rent boys had an influence on the work of Morrissey and The Rolling Stones, as well as Oscar Wilde and Francis Bacon before them – all of whom The Libs look up to. The best lyric, since you’re asking: “She’s my moral guide/ oh she does nothing at all”.
43/ Anthem For Doomed Youth (2015)
Another of ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’’s tracks that began life at some point in the mid-00s as one of Pete’s sketchy ideas (which was called ‘Handsome’), but needed the unstoppable force of a Libertines reunion to help it fully realise itself. “Life could be so handsome,” sings Carl. “Life could be okay.” Tentative positivity. One step at a time.
42/ Seven Deadly Sins (2003)
More Django Reinhardt love on the late-night swing of ‘Seven Deadly Sins’, which finds the Libs relaxing very deeply into their life of sin. It’s well worth checking out the early demo, if you’ve only heard the ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ era version (it gets to the good bits quicker):
And also this instrumental version, called ‘7 Deadly Frenchmen’ from the ‘Legs XI’ demos, which has got drums on. Mega!
41/ Smashing (2002)
A very lovely thing from the very early days. Two versions exist. The first, from the pre-‘Up The Bracket’ ‘77 Demos’, features a lady called Lulu Camus singing a verse in French. The second, from the ‘Whitechapel Demonstrations’, is just Pete. Both are immensely kind on the ears.
40/ Mockingbird (2004)
Skip to 19.50 in this video to witness the filthiest version of ‘Mockingbird’ available on the market (from a gig at the Duke Of Clarence in London on February 18 2004, where there was only about 100 people in the crowd):
39/ Lust of The Libertines (2015)
A super early version, recorded in 2001 (ish):
The version released as an ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ bonus track in 2015:
The early version is better, innit.
38/ I Got Sweets (2004)
I have it on good authority that very soon after The Libertines had stormed into Glastonbury 2015 to play a truly mega secret set on the Pyramid Stage, Pete Doherty could be seen chowing his way through a medium-large box of doughnuts. The man knows how to celebrate. For this reason I am willing to believe that this smokey-back-room bluesy jangle (that is a sort-of tribute to Belgian / Romain / French guitarist Django Reinhardt and was a ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ b-side) is not about drugs, no, but actually about sugary treats. Who’s with me?!?!?!
37/ Fame And Fortune (2015)
A right old cockney knees up on which the Libs look at their early days, before they signed on the dotted line to do their deal with the devil: “If you’re seeking fame and fortune, walking the streets of London, looking for the crossroads everywhere.” Includes references to the Libs first getting signed (“dip your quill in your bleeding heart/ sign there and there and there”) and a (possibly fictional) encounter Pete and Carl had with a north London neighbour: “there’s a slasher in a Holloway boulevard/ screaming “monkey, monkey, monkey””. Kinda silly, but highly charming.
36/ Hooray For The 21st Century (2001)
Major vibes from the ‘Legs XI’ demo compilation, featuring the extremely on-brand lyric “what became of the love we knew?”, and the “living in a looking glass” line that would reappear on ‘Narcissist’. Speaking of which…
35/ Narcissist (2004)
A very loose portrayal of the character Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray, written by Carl and Carl only, that accidentally makes an astute observation about how social media would turn us all into self-obsessed wonks, when Carl sings: “We’re living in a looking glass/ as the beauty of life goes by.” Wake up sheeple.
34/ Boys In The Band (2002)
The song formerly known as Breck Road Boys In The Band that is, according to a 2002 interview with Pete, about the special treatment people in a band get, just because they’re in a band (“they all get them out for, for the boys in the band / they scream and they shout for, for the boys in the band”). Might be about groupies, might not. Might be about William Friedkin’s 1970 film Boys In The Band, might not. Might be that songs Carl sings generally aren’t as good as the ones Pete sings, might not. Watch them do it live in Japan if you wanna:
33/ Tomblands (2004)
A sea shanty straight from hell written by people in the darkest of moods, featuring tales of murder, whisky consumption and underage sex. Pete once said it was his favourite track on ‘The Libertines’, which possibly explains why he was keen to name the album after it. But no.
32/ The Man Who Would Be King (2004)
“Got another secret for ya…” Heavily Clash-inspired banger inspired by and named after the 1888 Rudyard Kipling book of the same name, about two pals who become kings (of a remote part of Afghanistan, in Kipling’s version) before their friendship goes to shit. Painful levels of self awareness has always been one of Pete and Carl’s greatest strengths.
31/ Belly Of The Beast (2015)
“Back in London’s grey-scotch mist, staring up at my therapist / He says pound for pound, blow for blow, you’re the most messed-up motherfucker I know” – quite possibly the best moment on ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’, delivered by Carl. Although it does make you wonder what Carl’s therapist would make of that Doherty lad…
30/ Road To Ruin (2004)
A message from Carl, to Pete: “How can we make you understand, all you can be is written in your hand?” And another one: “I’m so sick, so sick of it all.” Lyrics like these, written for one another, are what makes Libertines songs so beguiling. The interpersonal drama is unprecedented.
29/ France (2004)
Hidden track on ‘The Libertines’, sung by Carl, that’s well worth finding. Sad, soulful guitar playing, mournful lyrics. Lost love is a motherfucker.
28/ Anything But Love (2001)
A fact: the Billie Holiday song that this charmer takes its title from (‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’) was one of the songs Pete said, in 2002, would be on his ideal compilation CD.
27/ Begging (2002)
You know and love the original: it’s edgy, thoughtful, and features a reference for by far and away the best newspaper in the UK, The Daily Sport. Now you’re ready for the Chicken Shack Session version (recorded after Pete was booted out of the Libs in September 2003):
26/ Arbeit Macht Frei (2004)
73 savage seconds for war-obsessed Pete to have a little think about the irony of some of the opinions held by the elder generation: “He don’t like blacks or queers, yet he’s proud we beat the Nazis? / How queer.” Would be whoppingly successful if released today, given Brexit and all.
25/ Never Never (2004)
Once upon a time a version of this utterly charming ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ b-side, known as the Hancock Version because it features outtakes from Hancock’s Half Hour, was described as “near mythical” by NME. These days the internet exists so you can listen to it here:
24/ The Boy Looked At Johnny (2002)
“The boy looked at Johnny” is a lyric in the Patti Smith song ‘Lands’. The Boy Looked At Johnny is also the title of a 1978 essay by NME writers Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill about rock ‘n’ roll being dead (and the Johnny of the title is Johnny Rotten). ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ is not about Razorlight singer Johnny Borrell, who was briefly the bassist in The Libertines. ‘The Boy Looked At Johnny’ contains one of the most underrated Libertines lyrics, in “the boy looked at Johnny, and said, ‘don’t you know who I think I am?’” Hugely fun punk rock sea shanty mayhem.
23/ Last Post On The Bugle (2004)
A man called Michael Bower has a songwriting credit on ‘Last Post On The Bugle’, because it really does borrow very heavily from his band The Masters Apprentices’ song ‘War Or Hands Of Time’. “A simple act of theft,” said Pete about it. The Libs version slays it though, obviously, because thrills don’t come any sloppier than Doherty rambling away about how he “heard them say, “Oh that boy’s no different today, except in every single way”. He’s barely in control of his own thoughts, and it’s exciting.
22/ You’re My Waterloo (2015)
The version on ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ is good and all, but have you heard this early demo where Pete sings like David Bowie?
21/ The Saga (2004)
At some point before the recording of The Libertines’ second album, a man (artist, literary agent, drug user) Paul Roundhill wrote a letter to his friend Pete Doherty about how much of a problem his drug use was becoming. As if to prove his point, Pete wrote a song about the letter, but Carl was not included in the writing process, and so ‘The Saga’ became the first Libertines song to not include a joint writing credit. A sad moment. “A problem becomes a problem, when you lie to your friends, and you lie to your people, and you lie to yourself.” Innit! Banging tune though.
20/ Mayday (2002)
65 seconds that’ll change your life. “First you put the tongue in, then you put the boot in.” Fuck on!
The NME Awards At The Hammersmith Palais, London, Britain – 12 Feb 2004, The Libertines (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images
19/ I Get Along (2002)
The story goes that for the first Libs single (a double A side), both Pete and Carl wrote a song about themselves. Pete turned in ‘What A Waster’ and Carl the significantly less doom-laded ‘I Get Along’. “I get along, just singing my song, people tell me I’m wrong – fuck ‘em” – beautiful.
18/ What Became Of The Likely Lads (2004)
Well actually the likely lads resolved their differences, got the band back together, made a decent new album, started touring again, headlined a load of festivals, set Pete up in a hotel in Margate, bought him a couple of dogs, got The Libs into a position where they can do big shows every few years to keep things ticking along, and generally made the best of fairly fucking awful situation. They’ve done alright, you know.
17/ Heart Of The Matter (2015)
The key line: “With all the battering it’s taken, I’m surprised that it’s still ticking”. When Pete sings it, it conjures images of crack pipes fry ups. When Carl sings it, it conjures images of heartbreak and endless worrying about his friend. They’re both still here though – and good golly what a song, performed with the energy of their 24-year-old selves.
Here’s a recent interview with Pete where he talks about not wanting to die.
16/ What Katie Did (2004)
It could be about Pete’s relationship with Kate Moss. Or it could be about Pete’s relationship with a lady called Katie Lewis. And it could be Pete singing about doing loads of heroin (“hurry up Mrs Brown”) to help him recover from the end of one of said relationships, and asking his one-time significant other: “what you gonna do Katie?” What we do know is Pete wrote it in his period of exile from the Libs, then gave it to Carl to sing as a gift when he was allowed back into the band for album two. Shoop shoop, shoop de-lang-a-lang.
15/ Tell The King (2002)
Pete Doherty has a gift for writing lyrics that get to the core of him, and anyone who has ever identified with him. Here, he’s all: “And you know how I feel out of place, until I’m levered off my face.” And it breaks your heart, given everything that’s happened in his life.
14/ Vertigo (2002)
The opening track on the debut album, and a near-perfect (Peter doesn’t really sing on it, so it’s not perfect perfect) intro to the Libs mythology: it’s a shambles, it’s a racket, it nicks some lines from the Hancock’s Half Hour episode The Poetry Society (“lead pipes? Your fortune’s made”), and it hints at the inevitable complications of living your entire life in a haze (“me myself I was never sure / Was it the liquor, or was it my soul?”).
13/ Music When The Lights Go Out (2004)
At its best (and saddest?) and most surreal, when performed for BBC presenter Kirsty Wark on Newsnight in 2004:
12/ The Good Old Days (2002)
“If you’ve lost your faith in love and music the end won’t be long” – amazing.
11/ Skag & Bone Man (2003)
Opening lyric: “No no no no no no no no no, I don’t really know what’s going on!” This is peak Libs looney bin music. Says Pete, in the book Kids in the Riot: High and Low with The Libertines (presumably during a bitter period in his and Carl’s friendship): “Carl was completely out of his mind, he started using crack and heroin then when were doing the first album, thought it was a big joke. We wrote a song called ‘Skag and Bone Man’ out of it, know what I mean? It stands out because we wrote and recorded it all in a day. Just being able to take what was around me, all my feelings, all my emotions about everything and put it into a song, whip the band into shape and give Carl his little 30 seconds for his solo and just BANG! It was there and I was happy, I was proud.” Dig your brain out with a spoon:
10/ Gunga Din (2015)
For many of the 10 years (2004-2014) that the Libertines didn’t exist, the idea of them getting back together seemed preposterous. There was a lot of healing to be done. So when, in April 2014, it was announced that the band would be playing Hyde Park and Alexandra Palace in London that year, it felt like a miracle. Then when, after many more gigs, on July 2 2016 they announced third album ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ and put out new single ‘Gunga Din’ (named after the 1980 poem by band fave Rudyard Kipling), it felt like some kind of sick joke. Then, when it turned out this ska anthem was not only good but great, it felt like all the water in the world had been turned into wine. This is the magic moment when Libs v 2.0 all began. And that opening lyric (allegedly borrowed by Pete from his friend Wolfman): “Woke up again, to my chagrin / getting sick and tired of feeling sick and tired again.” It couldn’t be more perfect.
9/ Plan A (2002)
As Libertines songs go, the subject matter is fairly dull: aspirational band still seek major record label deal despite previous rejections, so formulate a new plan (well, their manager Banny Poostchi does). It’s a sinister cut, though, full of creepy guitar, self-doubt and great lines sung by Pete. About making the band more signable (mebbe): “Sharpen up and carve them into something, carve ’em into something new.” About Pete and Carl’s relationship (mebbe): “My twin he tends to be me, he walks abroad, he like the broads, while I smoke and shake alone at home.” About himself (mebbe): “Sold his soul and bought new shoes.”
8/ The Delaney (2002)
It’s important to remember that for all the smack, jail, pain and sorrow that has followed Pete and Carl around since they made it, there was at the heart of the band a desperately positive desire to have a great fucking time. And is there a lighter, funner, more upbeat Libertines song than ‘The Delaney’? Altogether now: “Say no no no, oh yeah yeah yeah, oh maybe maybe maybe, oh I just don’t care” Rare version alert:
7/ Horrorshow (2002)
No song captures the madness, mayhem, surrealness, chaos, danger, recklessness and energy levels of early Libertines better than ‘Horrorshow’, which is two and half minutes of bedlam. Pete at his finest.
6/ Up The Bracket (2002)
The phrase “up the bracket” was, of course, one of Tony Hancock’s catchphrases, and refers to a punch in the throat. The “two shadow men on the Vallance Road” that Pete sings about are, of course, the Kray twins. And this song, of course, is the perfect mix of London history, literary references, Doherty storytelling, romanticising of violent crime and the barely containable punk energy of the Libertines. Fuck off!
5/ Death On The Stairs (2002)
An absolute zinger that’s well worth listening to at least 97 times to try and peace together the storyline. Its key attribute, to these ears, is that it’s the first song on ‘Up The Bracket’ to feature both Peter and Carlos singing verses, and it sizzles with the magic the pair of them conjure when they come together. Obviously the best lyric is: “I’m reversing down the lonely street, cheap hotel where I can meet the past, pay it off and keep it sweet.” This is something Pete still has to do roughly once a month.
4/ Can’t Stand Me Now (2004)
Such drama. “Poor little boy kicked out at the world, the world kicked back a lot fucking harder.” You’re making us cry, Peter. It gets worse, on this Peter-only demo, on which he sings (at the 2.57 mark): “I read every review, they all prefer you.” Which isn’t true, but sure as hell is the saddest thing in the world.
3/ Time For Heroes (2002)
Inspired, famously, by Pete’s big day out at the 2001 May Day Riots in London (“did you see the stylish kids in the riot? Shovelled up like muck and set the night on fire”), the devilishly simple pop-punk of ‘Time For Heroes’ is quintessential Libs, with lyrics about patriotism (“there’s fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap”), romance (“you know I cherish you my love”), real-life violence (“wombles bleed, truncheons and shields”), togetherness when faced with the dastardly deeds of the people who run this country (“and we’ll die in the class we were born, but that’s a class of our own my love”), and a reference to a favourite literary character (“and Bill Bones, Bill Bones knows what I mean”) all perfectly slurred by the most elegantly wasted poet in the land.
2/ Don’t Look Back Into The Sun (2003)
Released as a standalone single in-between ‘Up The Bracket’ and ‘The Libertines’, ‘DLBITS’ (as it’s known to its pals) is perhaps the best example of Carl keeping the Libs moving while everything crumbled around him. According to Bernard Butler, who produced it, this indie-pop masterpiece was “one of the biggest endurance tests of my life” because Pete could barely be arsed to turn up to the recording sessions, “and when he did turn up he did the bare minimum – he wasn’t in a good way”. But Bernard, John, Gary and Carl managed to find beauty in the wreckage. The video is perfect, too, especially when Pete steals a CD at the 1.13 mark. Another painfully poignant lyric in hindsight: “Oh my friend you haven’t changed, you’re looking rough and living strange.”
1/ What A Waster (2002)
The ultimate Tragic In Hindsight Libertines track, and therefore the band’s best track, because what is Pete and Carl’s story if not pop music’s most Shakespearean tragedy. In ‘What A Waster’ Pete is the narrator, and his lead character a girl who “wakes up in the morning, and writes down all her dreams / reads like the book of revelations, or the Beano or the unabridged Ulysses”. But, as we know, she’s “a fucking waster” who “pissed it all up the wall”. “Where does all the money go?” Pete asks at one point. The answer is: “straight up her nose”. There has always been a whiff of self-fulfilling prophecy to Pete’s life of addiction and it’s hard, so hard, 17 years after this debut single came out, not to see this song as a macabre blueprint to what has become of him. Even he, these days, admits that he’d be a better musician if he wasn’t a junkie, but he is, and has been for most of the time he’s been famous. And for a time that worked for him, and it worked for The Libertines, and it helped them write incredibly tragic, romantic, dramatic, and painfully self-referential, self-aware and self-flagellating music, of which ‘What A Waster’ is the prime example. That lifestyle, though, has also left behind it a trail of destruction, not least with Pete’s relationship with his parents. Which is why this video from March 11 2017 of birthday boy Pete singing ‘What A Waster’ with his previously-estranged dad, is one of the weirdest, but sweetest, things you will ever see in your life: